An "entertaining and enlightening" deep dive into the alcohol-soaked origins of civilization—and the evolutionary roots of humanity's appetite for intoxication (Daniel E. Lieberman, author of Exercised).
While plenty of entertaining books have been written about the history of alcohol and other intoxicants, none have offered a comprehensive, convincing answer to the basic question of why humans want to get high in the first place.
Drunk elegantly cuts through the tangle of urban legends and anecdotal impressions that surround our notions of intoxication to provide the first rigorous, scientifically-grounded explanation for our love of alcohol. Drawing on evidence from archaeology, history, cognitive neuroscience, psychopharmacology, social psychology, literature, and genetics, Drunk shows that our taste for chemical intoxicants is not an evolutionary mistake, as we are so often told. In fact, intoxication helps solve a number of distinctively human challenges: enhancing creativity, alleviating stress, building trust, and pulling off the miracle of getting fiercely tribal primates to cooperate with strangers. Our desire to get drunk, along with the individual and social benefits provided by drunkenness, played a crucial role in sparking the rise of the first large-scale societies. We would not have civilization without intoxication.
From marauding Vikings and bacchanalian orgies to sex-starved fruit flies, blind cave fish, and problem-solving crows, Drunk is packed with fascinating case studies and engaging science, as well as practical takeaways for individuals and communities. The result is a captivating and long overdue investigation into humanity's oldest indulgence—one that explains not only why we want to get drunk, but also how it might actually be good for us to tie one on now and then.
Slingerland (Trying Not to Try), a professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia, delivers an entertaining and informative look at the "popularity, persistence, and importance of intoxicants throughout human history." Citing chemical traces of alcohol found on Chinese pot shards from 7000 BCE and peyote buttons carbon-dated to 3700 BCE found in human cave dwellings in Mexico, Slingerland contends that the benefits of intoxication, including boosted creativity, stress relief, and enhanced cooperation, were key to the rise of the "first large-scale societies." He also delves into biology and neuroscience to explain how alcohol's inhibition of the prefrontal cortex helps foster a "childlike creativity and receptiveness in otherwise fully-functional adults," and cites psychological studies showing that moderate intoxication breaks down the social barriers that can prevent people from bonding. Acknowledging that modern distillation techniques and increased social isolation have amplified the dangers of drugs and alcohol, Slingerland suggests ways of "taming Dionysus" such as allowing young adults to sample wine at dinner, so they view it as a "source of aesthetic pleasure" rather than a "forbidden substance." A witty and well-informed narrator, Slingerland ranges across a wide range of academic fields to make his case. Readers will toast this praiseworthy study.